Failure to use HIT system exposes league to future concussion liability

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As the NFL deals with well over 2,000 former players who are suing for concussions, the league understandably hopes to slam the door on future lawsuits from current players.

In one specific regard, the league is failing.

An Outsides the Lines report from Bob Holtzman of ESPN creates the perception of a dog chasing its tail regarding the question of whether the NFL is properly embracing technological advances that will help spot whether players should exit a game due to head trauma.

After explaining the work of North Carolina professor Kevin Guskiewicz to use helmet sensors to record in real time the force of each and every blow to the head during practice or a game, Holtzman explained that the NFL isn’t ready to say when or if the Helmet Impact Telemetry (HIT) system will be used.  The league then referred Holtzman to its expert on these matters.

And their expert is — you guessed it — Kevin Guskiewicz.

“I’ve been comfortable with the questions that we’ve asked and the validation studies that have been done to this point, and I feel as though we probably could have had this system in place a year or so ago,” Guskiewicz said.

“It absolutely can work in the NFL,” he added regarding the system that North Carolina now uses as a recruiting tool.  “I’ve been doing it for eight years, so I know it can be done.”

Guskiewicz explained that eight NFL teams planned to use the HIT system in 2010, and that the plug was pulled at the “eleventh hour.”  Citing an unnamed source, Holtzman reports that the NFL Players Association blocked the use of the HIT system.  Holtzman added that the NFLPA did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

NBC analyst Hines Ward, who spent 14 years with the Steelers, believes players will be reluctant about using the HIT system.   “You’re gonna open up a while Pandora’s Box with it,” Ward told Holtzman.  “For a doctor to read a computer and tell me how hard I’ve been hit and to pull me out of a game, that won’t sit well with a lot of players.”

Ward also worries that the data will be used by owners to justify paying players less money.

Regardless, the NFL’s expert is getting impatient.  “If we’re sitting here in a year from now and we’re not any closer to have on-field, real-time biomechanics being measured, I’ll be real frustrated, and perhaps ready to throw the towel in,” Guskiewicz said.

Lawyers interested in representing current players in future concussion lawsuit are likely feeling anything but frustrated.  With the NFL’s expert believing that the technology could have been and should have been used in 2010 — and upset by the fact that it’s still not currently in use — any player who suffered concussions even after the NFL had a Congress-induced epiphany in October 2009 will be able to argue that, if the NFL merely had followed the advice of its expert and used the HIT system, the player would have been pulled from a game before real damage had been done.

The report that the NFLPA stopped the implementation of the technology in 2010 complicates matters for future plaintiffs.  But that one fact could mean that future concussion lawsuits will be filed not only against the NFL, but also against the union.  (To date, concussion suits have been filed only against the league.)

Regardless, any actual or perceived failure by the stewards of the game to do everything reasonably possible to reduce head injuries or avoid them altogether will provide fodder for an ongoing stream of litigation from the men who currently play the game.  And the league’s failure to follow the advice of Kevin Guskiewicz creates a far more tangible, clear, and defined risk of liability than the Saints bounty program ever could.

13 responses to “Failure to use HIT system exposes league to future concussion liability

  1. If the league is so hell-bent on protecting players, why didn’t they implement this when they were made aware of what it could do????

  2. Unions’ SOLE purpose is to shield and protect their members from their employers whether justified in that or not. They have some ‘splaining to do, and they are refusing to talk about it. It’s outrageous, the double standard here and how they are skating on this when so many players themselves say they don’t want to be taken out of games or as Ward put it, have a computer printout given to owners so it hurts their money. They MUST as a UNION…you know UNIFY on this. The players and union can’t have it both ways.

  3. I don’t understand how current NFL players who will inevitably get concussions will be able to sue the NFL after the body that represents them (NFLPA) refuses to allow the NFL to study the impacts! To me that’s basically called an insurance waiver, the NFLPA waived it’s rights, and should have any future lawsuits against the NFL thrown at their faces (specifically at the face of De Smith).

  4. If a player goes back into a game, after sustaining a concussion and against the advice of the team physician and coaches, that player should sign a waiver that gives him no right to sue for future or past concussions b/c he is acting on his own volition.

    I would HATE to see players still going into games so they can generate stats to get bonuses but then sue the NFL later and say “the team should’ve stopped me “blah blah blah”.

  5. gvicknair–did you not read the article??? The NFLPA–the union, stopped the teams from using it. They’re also the ones that are putting up the roadblock to test players for HGH, something THEY AGREED TO DO IN THE CBA last year. The NFL needs to take them to court on both of these counts and tell them they are not looking out for the safety of the players–that should be apparent, given how hard they’re defending the Saints who have been charged in bountygate.

  6. Guskiewicz explained that eight NFL teams planned to use the HIT system in 2010, and that the plug was pulled at the “eleventh hour.” Citing an unnamed source, Holtzman reports that the NFL Players Association blocked the use of the HIT system.

    I don’t see how this implicates the NFL. The statement above, if true, clearly indicates that the NFLPA is the impediment in implementing the HIT system. Players are afraid that being pulled early from games will negatively impact their incomes. Yet these same players will want to sue the NFL over concussions at some future date. They’re making the choice to have their heads impacted rather than their present incomes.

  7. To All current & future NFL players – American football is violent game by nature that can give lots of problems down the road. So, of you are afraid of it, stop playing it now.

  8. I can’t speak to the legal aspects of this, but I understand why they are hesitant to implement such a system.

    From somebody who spent nearly 3 years in hell recovering from a concussion, something that most people don’t realize is that where and how you hit your head have at least as much impact on whether you get a concussion or not than the actual force involved. My 3+ year ordeal started when I hit my head much less forcefully than I have in the past, but it must’ve been in just the right spot and the right direction to royally screw up my brain. (I’d say that I’ve hit my head twice as hard before with no ill effects, but the bump that caused the concussion fractured my skull with much less impact force.)

    Simply measuring forces involved is a good first step, but it won’t tell you for certain whether a player has a concussion or not. Don’t misunderstand – I think that such sensors would be an excellent idea as a first step. Pulling players from the game based solely on the readings is a very slippery slope, which is why I believe there’s reluctance to put it in place.

    Just my $0.02

  9. The HIT System monitors and records how hard he player is hit. It can not determine if the player has suffered a concussion. One of the problems the league encounters when attempting to protect players is that concussions are not uniform and vary from play to play. Two players aware of the other and fully prepped for contact can run into each other and neither player will suffer injury. A player being tackled who is not aware of the defender can suffer a brain injure with a much lighter hit. Linemen who receive repeated contact to the head (every play) are more likely to suffer long term effects and often suffer multiple small concussions during a game.

    Bottom line. Its a brutal sport.

  10. “Holtzman reports that the NFL Players Association blocked the use of the HIT system. Holtzman added that the NFLPA did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.”

    For this issue, the NFLPA is the enemy.

  11. what this implies is that the union [players] is only interested in protecting the financial interests of the players, which is pretty short-sited.
    (is that non-offensive enough pft censors)?

  12. The NFL should have had all of this in place when they first organize the NFL football league. The NFL just need to pay these guys they money because if they cared about players safety they would have had this same system in place then. But now NFL commissioner Roger Goodell throwing serious suspension on teams and coaches, and players because of they error and this is not fair to the teams. People’s down on bounty programs what they fail to realize that pay for performance been going on for decades if every player who played NFL football from years back come forward with they concussion the NFL will have more than 2,000 concussion cases. So the NFL commissioner just need to pay those 2,000 and be happy I don’t feel sorry for Roger Goodell just pay these guys with concussion injuries and stop trying to find away to not pay them before there want be a NFL nor players because Roger Goodell you not going to get by these lawsuits like you did on the bounty program as you said it was.

  13. There is no set force that says “this player has a concussion.” Every hit is different to every player, so this system does not seem very effective to me.

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